Paralegal Studies

paralegal-studies
intro-paralegal-iconParalegal studies programs give students the knowledge necessary to work as paralegals and legal assistants. As a student in a paralegal studies program, you’ll develop a broad foundation that will prepare you to work in lawyers’ offices and many other businesses.

You’ll learn about the judicial system and acquire the skills needed to assist with the preparation of legal documents and court cases. Paralegal studies programs vary in length and content. Whether you’re a recent high school graduate or a midlife career changer, you can find a paralegal studies program to help you achieve your career goals.

Why Pursue Paralegal Studies?

A paralegal studies program is the best way to prepare for a career as a paralegal. A paralegal performs legal work while being supervised by a licensed attorney. Though you can’t give legal advice or represent clients as a paralegal, you could have the following responsibilities:

  • Manage cases
  • Perform background research
  • Interview witnesses
  • Communicate with clients
  • Analyze and prepare legal documents such as contracts and appeals
  • File court papers
  • Organize exhibits for court cases

While there’s no minimum educational requirement for paralegals, your completion of a paralegal studies program shows prospective employers that you’ve made a commitment to your career choice. As a graduate of a paralegal studies program, you’ll have the skills necessary for jobs in lawyers’ offices, government agencies, corporate legal departments, banks, insurance companies and the court system.

You’ll likely be rewarded for your work in a paralegal studies program since job prospects are expected to remain consistent, with room for growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 15 percent job growth for paralegals and legal assistants through 2026, resulting in the addition of 41,800 jobs nationwide.

What Types of Programs are Available?

Paralegal studies programs are offered at technical schools, community colleges, traditional colleges and universities. Options for online vs. on-campus, full-time vs. part-time, and day vs. evening programs are available at all levels. Factors such as your lifestyle, finances and career goals will determine which one is right for you. Paralegal studies programs typically fall into one of three categories:

Certificate programs usually require six months to a year of full-time study. Some certificate programs require only a high school education or GED. Others are post-baccalaureate programs for college graduates who want to add paralegal studies to an existing associate or bachelor’s degree.

Associate’s degree programs typically require two years of study if taken as a full-time student. However, these programs allow you to earn college credits, which may be used toward a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or another major.

Bachelor’s degree programs usually require at least four years of study if taken as a full-time student. With the extra credits and time allowed for the degree, you can specialize in a category of law. A bachelor’s degree also can prepare you for graduate or law school.

Though certification typically is not required to work as a paralegal, it is recommended. Organizations including the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Association of Legal Professionals (NALS) offer certification exams. Paralegal studies programs don’t grant certification. However, completion of a program may fulfill one of the qualifications to sit for a certification exam from a national paralegal organization.

What is the Curriculum?

The curriculum for paralegal studies programs varies widely since there’s no minimum educational requirement. Typically, paralegal studies programs that lead to associate and bachelor’s degrees offer more opportunities for expanded study and specialization. Some programs also include internships or other hands-on experiences.

Cert-iconCertificate programs in paralegal studies are designed for students who want to start their careers as quickly as possible. Certificate programs typically concentrate on the practical knowledge necessary to secure a job.

As a student in a paralegal studies certificate program, you’re likely to concentrate on:

  • Procedures and terminology of the court system
  • Legal research and interviewing skills
  • Legal writing
  • Document preparation
  • Litigation
  • Civil and criminal law
  • Wills and estate law
  • Professionalism

AS-iconAssociate’s degree programs in paralegal studies typically include the same core topics that are taught in a certificate program. However, the additional time and credits allow for more varied study and some specialization.

Students typically can expect to include basic level studies in the following subjects:

  • Communications
  • Computer programming and online literacy
  • Math
  • Science
  • English composition
  • Ethics or psychology

BS-iconBachelor’s Degree programs in paralegal studies allow for a complete, well-rounded experience. In addition to introductory and advanced study of the same paralegal topics taught in certificate programs, bachelor’s degree programs include core liberal arts and business courses required of all bachelor’s degrees.These courses can help develop the skills necessary to succeed in a specialized field of law.

  • History
  • Literature
  • Natural sciences
  • Social sciences
  • Math
  • The arts
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Advanced study of narrowly defined areas of law such as cyber law or social media law

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